Even the most peripheral of football fans have heard of Vince Lombardi. In his eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers, he coached them to five NFL championships, including Super Bowls I & II. Indeed, the Super Bowl Trophy is now named after him.
Among his most famous quotes are his thoughts on winning through teamwork, and these include: “People who work together will win”; and “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
By extension, we could say that this same commitment makes a play work. And Theatre Raleigh’s current production of Lombardi proves the coach’s sentiments — in spades. Indeed, the group efforts of playwright, director, designers, and actors combine to yield a championship-quality victory.
The script itself, by Eric Simonson, is first-rate, with witty, true-to-life dialogue. It is based on David Maraniss’ book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi. The action of this 90-minute one-act is primarily set in one week of the 1965 NFL season; and it includes flashbacks to poignant moments, such as the day Lombardi decides he wants the job in Green Bay and key interactions with his players.
Director Charlie Brady (not unlike Lombardi himself) brings out the best in the various “players” who contribute to the production. Scenic designer Chris Bernier supplies a versatile set that is at various times a football field, a team meeting room, a living room in Green Bay, a living room in New York, and a pool hall.
The audience is seated stadium style (complete with numbered sections), and there is a goalpost at one end and stadium-style floodlights at the other. We loved the crowning touch — a Green Bay Packers emblem in the center of the stage. Scene changes are deftly handled as the cast moves set pieces on and off and lighting shifts from one end to the other.
Contributions of property designer Tim Domack complete the verisimilitude; and Erich Keil does double-duty, designing both lighting and projection. In addition to finely honed focused lighting, Keil’s lighting team makes use of follow-spots at various moments. And we are treated to projections (on a screen) of actual footage from vintage Packers games and to the drawing up the famous play known as “The Green Bay Power Sweep” (a.k.a. “49”).
Sarah McCabe supplies on-the-mark costumes for the mid 1960s — both on and off the field. We were especially impressed by Marie Lombardi’s outfits. Sound designer Eric Alexander Collins ices the cake with appropriate background sounds, such as a cheering crowd at the football stadium and period jukebox music in the pool hall.
Most impressive of all, however, is the acting. David Henderson turns in a performance that is nothing less than stellar. He captures the crusty, hard-boiled nature of Lombardi; and he makes us believe in his under-lying affection for his players, his commitment to winning, and his love for his wife.
Judy McLane is equally brilliant as Vince’s wife, Marie Lombardi. She delivers the biting sarcasm that Italian New York wives are famous for. There is no doubt about Marie’s support for her husband, but we also get multiple hints of regret about the way certain aspects of her life have turned out. The chemistry between McLane’s Marie and the other actors is remarkable. She is especially endearing in the flashback to the scene in which Lombardi decides he wants the Green Bay job.
Adam Poole also shines as Look Magazine reporter Michael McCormick, who is in Green Bay to do a story on Lombardi. McCormick keeps on bumping into roadblocks as he tries to gather material for this assignment. The character, however, finds inventive ways of “winning.” This character also has the choric function of supplying background information, and Poole handles this duty with aplomb.
Jade Arnold as “Robby” (linebacker Dave Robinson), Victor Joel Ortiz as the multiple-position Paul Hornung, and Dan Callaway as fullback Jim Taylor combine to give a cross-section of the team. They show various ways in which the players deal with their coach’s abrasive style and the reporter’s intrusive mission. These actors make all three characters easy to get to know and easy to like.
This fine cast is rounded out by two other football players: Cameron Denson and Kenny Hertling; and the production includes voice overs by Wes Chesson, Michael Kennedy, and David McClutchey.
As an added treat, the script manages to sneak in a glimpse of the formative stages of the NFL Players’ Association and the issues that it will address on behalf of its membership. And a conversation between Coach Lombardi and Jim Taylor points to the emergence of players’ agents in the industry.
The Department of Picky-Picky feels compelled to compliment the flawless and endearing accents of the actors and the authentic hairstyles.
Everyone loves a winner, and this play is just that: a winner. We recommend it to both fans and non-fans of the game of football.
SECOND OPINION: July 20th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Spencer P. Phillips: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8569; July 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article162787308.html; and July 19th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/lombardi/Event?oid=6786296. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 20th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/07/david-henderson-is-astonishing-as-the-legendary-green-bay-packers-coach-in-lombardi/.)
Theatre Raleigh presents LOMBARDI, starring David Henderson as Vince Lombardi, at 8 p.m. July 21, 2 and 8 p.m. July 22, 3 p.m. July 23, 8 p.m. July 26-28, 2 and 8 p.m. July 29, and 3 p.m. July 30 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 2760.
TICKETS: 30 ($28 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel). BOX OFFICE: 919-832-9997, email@example.com, or https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S610000035dTyEAI.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket#details_a0S610000035dTyEAI and http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/lombardi-8123.
2017 SEASON: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/2017-season/. P
RESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
Lombardi (2010 play): http://www.lombardibroadway.com/ (official website), http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4296 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.ericsimonson.org/lombardi/ (Eric Simonson’s web page) https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/lombardi-487854 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lombardi_(play) (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.lombardibroadway.com/downloads/studyguide-rev.pdf (from the 2010-11 Broadway production).
Eric Simonson (Milwaukee, WI-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.ericsimonson.org/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/eric-simonson-16179 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Simonson (Wikipedia).
Charlie Brady (director): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/charlie-brady-476211 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://www.facebook.com/charlie.brady.10 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.